Voyagers and Voyeurs, by Nigel Woodhead
Travelers in France until the Great War
The Perils of Garlic
After leaving Montbrun I saw nothing more of civilization until I came near a woman seated on a doorstep, and engaged in the exciting occupation of fleaing a cat. She held the animal upon its back between her knees, and was so engrossed by the pleasures of the chase that she scarcely looked up to answer a question I put to her. The word café painted upon a piece of board hung over another door enticed me inside, for it was now nearly midday, and I had been in search of the picturesque since seven o'clock, sustained by nothing more substantial than a bowl of black coffee and a piece of bread. This is the only breakfast that one can expect in a rural auberge of Southern France. If milk is wanted in the coffee it must be asked for over-night, and even then it is very doubtful if the cow will be found in time. To ask for butter with the bread would be looked upon as a sign of eccentric gluttony, but to cap this request with a demand for bacon and eggs at seven in the morning, as a man fresh from England might do with complete unconsciousness of his depravity, would be to openly confess one's self capable of any crime. People who travel should never be slaves to any notions on eating and drinking, for such obstinacy brings its own punishment.
A stout woman with a coloured silk kerchief on her head met me with a
good-tempered face, and, after considering what she could do for me in the way
of lunch, said, as though a bright idea had suddenly struck her:
'I have just killed some geese; would monsieur like me to cook him some of the blood?'.
'Merci!' I replied. 'Please think of something else.'
An Englishman may possibly become reconciled to snails and frogs as food, but never, I should say, to goose's blood. In about twenty minutes a meal was ready for me, composed of soup containing great pieces of bread, lumps of pumpkin and haricots; minced pork that had been boiled with the soup in a goose's neck, then a veal cutlet, covered with a thick layer of chopped garlic. Horace says that this herb is only fit for the stomachs of reapers, but every man who loves garlic in France is not a reaper. Strangers to this region had better reconcile themselves both to its perfume and its flavour without loss of time, for of all the seasoning essences provided by nature for the delight of mankind garlic is most esteemed here. Those who have a horror of it would fare very badly at a table-d'hôte at Cahors, for its refined odour rises as soon as the soup is brought in, and does not leave until after the salad. Even then the unconverted say that it is still present. To cultivate a taste for garlic is, therefore, essential to happiness here.
I had given tea and a teapot, with instructions, to the waiter. The chef, however, anxious that there should be no blunder, came up to me and begged for information at first hand. 'Pray excuse me,' he said; 'but I did not understand whether the milk and sugar were to form part of the decoction.' I gave him a little dissertation on tea-making, with the result that future travellers by the Gladiateur will obtain a fragrant cup admirably prepared. Even a French chef cannot be expected to know everything in the vast field of cookery. (Matilda Betham-Edwards, 1889)
What a charming abode is Paris, for a man who can afford to live at the rate of a thousand or fifteen hundred pounds a year! … If Paris affords a thousand enjoyments to the man of fortune, it may truly be said that, without money, Paris is the most melancholy abode in the world. (Blagdon, Francis William, 1801)
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"Intoxication is almost unknown in the better cafés; their patrons may sear their oesophagi with hot Chartreuse, derange the nerves with Absinthe, stimulate themselves hourly with their little cups of black coffee and brandy; but they never get drunk. Frenchmen are temperate, even in their intemperance. An English gin-mill and probably an American bar causes more besotment than a dozen French cafés."
Edwin Asa Dix,1890
"American and English tourists are alike shocked and provoked at the
sight of the innumerable nude statues and paintings, on the, pleasure gardens
and in the art galleries, but the ladies of the continent seem to see as little
of indecencies or improprieties in those things, as we do in opening our Bibles
and seeing saints and apostles represented with bare feet…"
George H. Heffner, 1876
"There are few finer things than to go into Paris for the first time on a warm, bright Saturday night. At this moment I can think of but one finer thing--and that is when, wearied of being short-changed and bilked and double-charged, and held up for tips or tribute at every step, you are leaving Paris on a Saturday night--or, in fact, any night." Irvin S. Cobb
"The Paris department stores are worse jumbles even than the English department stores. When there is a special sale under way the bargain counters are rigged up on the sidewalks. There, in the open air, buyer and seller will chaffer and bicker, and wrangle and quarrel, and kiss and make up again--for all the world to see. One of the free sights of Paris is a frugal Frenchman, with his face extensively haired over, pawing like a Skye terrier through a heap of marked-down lingerie; picking out things for the female members of his household to wear--now testing some material with his tongue; now holding a most personal article up in the sunlight to examine the fabric--while the wife stands humbly, dumbly by, waiting for him to complete his selections." Irvin S. Cobb
"As you walk along the Rue de la Paix [Footnote: The X being one of the few silent things in France.] and pay and pay, and keep on paying, your eye is constantly engaged by two inscriptions that occur and recur with the utmost frequency. One of these appears in nearly every shopwindow and over nearly every shopdoor. It says:
English Spoken Here.
This, I may tell you, is one of the few absolutely truthful and dependable statements encountered by the tourist in the French capital. Invariably English is spoken here. It is spoken here during all the hours of the day and until far Into the dusk of the evening; spoken loudly, clearly, distinctly, hopefully, hopelessly, stridently, hoarsely, despondently, despairingly and finally profanely by Americans who are trying to make somebody round the place understand what they are driving at." Irvin S. Cobb
"A Parisian shopkeeper would sell you the bones of his revered grandmother if
you wanted them and he had them in stock; and he would have them in stock too,
because, as I have stated once before, a true Parisian never throws away
anything he can save."
Irving S. Cobb
"...but here it is all vanity, downright vanity: a Frenchman must have his country and his mistress admired, though he does not often care much for either one or the other." An English Lady, 1793
"A bad English dinner is a very bad thing, but a bad French one is infinitely worse." Miss Emma Roberts, 1839
_ _ _
"Will custom exempt from the imputation of gross indecency a French lady, who shifts her frowsy smock in presence of a male visitant, and talks to him of her lavement, her medecine, and her bidet!" Tobias Smollett
"It is a very odd contrast between France and England; in the former all the people are complaisant but the publicans; in the latter there is hardly any complaisance but among the publicans." Tobias Smollett
"If there were five hundred dishes at table, a Frenchman will eat of all of them, and then complain he has no appetite." Tobias Smollett
"For my own part, I hate French cookery, and abominate garlick, with which all their ragouts, in this part of the country, are highly seasoned: we therefore formed a different plan of living upon the road. Before we left Paris, we laid in a stock of tea, chocolate, cured neats' tongues, and saucissons, or Bologna sausages, both of which we found in great perfection in that capital, where, indeed, there are excellent provisions of all sorts." Tobias Smollett
"I observe that the physicians in this country pay no regard to the state of the solids in chronical disorders, that exercise and the cold bath are never prescribed, that they seem to think the scurvy is entirely an English disease; and that, in all appearance, they often confound the symptoms of it, with those of the venereal distemper." Tobias Smollett
wines of France, and the politeness and vivacity of its people, I was glad
enough even after so short an absence to set foot again in old England. There
are in France two privations which I think I could never submit to, the want of
English small beer, and English cheese. To every thing else I could readily
accommodate myself: and I must say that I enjoyed my one o’clock dinner at our
old inn, the Packet Boat, consisting of an excellent ordinary, and accompanied
by good malt liquor, and savoury Double
Gloucester, more than all the variety of dishes, and delicious wines of
Rev. W. R. Wake, 1814
Parent Page: Voyagers and Voyeurs
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